DUP's Jim Wells targeted by 'Russian woman seeking warmth of Western man'
DUP MLA urging people not to fall for online scam
DUP politician Jim Wells has been targeted by cyber criminals posing as a Russian female searching for romance.
The former Health Minister said he received a message on social media site Facebook from a "young Russian lady" who said she wanted to "feel the warmth of a Western man".
Mr Wells, whose wife Grace is currently being cared for in a nursing home after suffering from a serious stroke, said it was the third time he had been targeted by cyber criminals using fake social media profiles.
The approaches to the South Down Assembly Member appear to bear all the hallmarks of a blackmailing scam.
"I recently received a message on Facebook from a young Russian lady who wanted to be my friend. She told me that 'she wanted to feel the warmth of a Western man'. I think what she meant to say was that she wanted to feel the warmth of a Western man's wallet. I deleted the message," said Mr Wells.
He revealed that he also received separate messages from two different "Eastern European models" wanting to be his friend.
"Their profiles said they were from different countries and they had different names, but it was the same photograph - slim, blonde and drop dead gorgeous.
"The trolls are not stupid, as they will know that they will never hook me with promises of drink, or worse. So they try to hook me with friendship. Fortunately, I'm not stupid either and I know that 22-year-old models don't want to be friends with a 59-year-old has-been politician who is slightly overweight and totally grey."
Mr Wells said his case should warn other social media users not to fall for cyber scams.
"They prey on the weaknesses of lonely men. I am on my own at the minute and I can understand how people fall for this type of message. There was a very good piece on Radio 4 two weeks ago about a divorced police inspector who fell for one of these messages and lost £13,000. I would strongly recommend that Facebook users delete these messages immediately."
He added: "During my clearout of my Facebook friends I came across several young ladies who looked very suspicious and certainly didn't live in Kilkeel!"
Internet blackmail is a growing concern, with at least two so-called "sextortion" cases reported every week in Northern Ireland.
In six months last year PSNI detectives dealt with 62 incidents of cyber blackmail.
The victims, ranging from teenagers to men in their 60s, fell prey to criminal gangs based in Africa and the Philippines. Scams, which often follow weeks of grooming, involve victims sending indecent or sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves and then being blackmailed to stop the footage being released to family or friends.
Experts say there is no age limit and no particular type of person they are targeting. The criminals will ask for up to thousands of pounds, euros or dollars.
The issue of online blackmail hit the headlines last June when Co Tyrone teenager Ronan Hughes took his life after what his family called "relentless" bullying by a Nigerian gang.
The 17-year-old, from Clonoe near Coalisland, was duped into posting intimate photos online after receiving pictures of a girl.
He was then blackmailed for £3,000 by criminals who threatened to upload the images to his friends' Facebook pages.
Other cases reported to police include a 46-year-old man who was asked to pay £300 to a crime gang in Nigeria, an 18-year-old man who was blackmailed for £300 by someone in the Philippines, and a 28-year-old man who was asked for €9,000 (£6,600) by an extortionist traced to Africa.